The Gladiator Scene That Nearly Killed Russell Crowe

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Written By Sedoso Feb

In the adrenaline-fueled scene, Joaquin Phoenix’s dastardly Emperor Commodus has pulled out all the stops to defeat Maximus who has been winning all of the gladiator fights so far. One of his tricks is adding multiple tigers to the battle who pop out from beneath trap doors in the ground. Ridley Scott’s camerawork heightens the suspense of Maximus being trapped with these eleven-foot predators. Employing handheld cameras and a high frame rate, he creates jittery shots that tremble with fear and immerse the audience directly into the heart of the action. 

These elegant but deadly big cats were not CGI (although there was a prosthetic tiger that jumped on Maximus) and Russell Crowe really did get terrifyingly close to them, which Ridley Scott recalls in his Variety interview: 

“You’ve got two guys on a chain with a ring in the floor to control [the tiger]. Russell said, ‘OK, release them’ and when Russell would fall back, the tiger would come out of the hole and Russell would roll out of the way and he said, ‘F— me, that was close.’ And I said, ‘We were there as well, Russell. Hey, you were two feet, I was like four feet.’

Working with animals, especially such lethal ones as tigers, always poses a risk because of their unpredictable reactions and wild instincts. One false move and Crowe could have been highly injured or killed. By having these creatures so close to the lead actor in such an elaborate fight scene, “Gladiator” creates an extremely visceral and thrilling viewing experience. In a way, these behind-the-scenes dangers evoke the lives of gladiators where the line between life and death was razor-thin.

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